Bird Fact Friday – the Magnificent Frigatebird

For the next month, Bird Fact Friday will be showcasing passages and illustrations from Far From Land, a forthcoming book that reveals the lives and activities of seabirds as you’ve never seen them before.

Adapted from pages 9 and 35 of the text:

[T]he five frigatebird species … are predominantly black. By way of sexual ornamentation, mature males have red throat pouches that can be inflated to attract females. Since their legs are tiny, frigatebirds are virtually unable to walk, but the reduced undercarriage and the large angular wings mean that their wing loading, the weight of bird supported by each square centimetre of wing surface, is the lowest of all birds. This gives them extreme agility, well displayed when they are chasing other seabirds, forcing them to regurgitate, and then catching the vomited spoils in mid-air before they splat into the sea.

The bare-skinned red throat of a male Magnificent Frigatebird is inflated to attract a mate. Illustration by Bruce Pearson.

The juvenile Great Frigatebirds hailed from Europa, a low atoll between Mozambique and Madagascar. For the first six months of flying life, the juveniles go to sea by day but return to land by night to be fed, normally by their mothers. Then the satellite-tracked young birds move north up the Somali coast, perhaps looking down on the region’s contemporary human pirates. The journeys are relaxed, around 450 km/day. The birds alternate periods of soaring in circles, attaining heights up to 3,000m, and periods of slow descent. While soaring, the frigatebirds do not flap their wings but rely on differences in air speed between different blocks of air to gain height, so-called dynamic soaring. Using this tactic, the young frigatebird remains in flight for up to two months at a stretch, sometimes even passing close to but not making landfall on the scattered islands of the Indian Ocean. Only occasionally is the pattern broken with land-based rests of a day or so on isolated islets of the Seychelles or Chagos archipelagoes. As the young birds pursue repeated clockwise circuits of the Doldrums of the central Indian Ocean for a year or more, it is an immensely leisurely entrée to independent life.

Far From Land

Michael Brooke
With illustrations by Bruce Pearson

Seabirds evoke the spirit of the earth’s wildest places. They spend large portions of their lives at sea, often far from land, and nest on beautiful and remote islands that humans rarely visit. Thanks to the development of increasingly sophisticated and miniaturized devices that can track their every movement and behavior, it is now possible to observe the mysterious lives of these remarkable creatures as never before. This beautifully illustrated book takes you on a breathtaking journey around the globe to reveal where these birds actually go when they roam the sea, the tactics they employ to traverse vast tracts of ocean, the strategies they use to evade threats, and more.

Michael Brooke has visited every corner of the world in his lifelong pursuit of seabirds. Here, he draws on his own experiences and insights as well as the latest cutting-edge science to shed light on the elusive seafaring lives of albatrosses, frigatebirds, cormorants, and other ocean wanderers. Where do puffins go in the winter? How deep do penguins dive? From how far away can an albatross spot a fishing vessel worth following for its next meal? Brooke addresses these and other questions in this delightful book. Along the way, he reveals that seabirds are not the aimless wind-tossed creatures they may appear to be and explains the observational innovations that are driving this exciting area of research.

Featuring illustrations by renowned artist Bruce Pearson and packed with intriguing facts, Far from Land provides an extraordinary up-close look at the activities of seabirds.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Bird Fact Friday – Red-necked PhalaropesBird Fact Friday – Greater Honeyguide >>